Steve Sharra wrote me a few months ago - he's a Malawian writer whose office was on the same floor as mine back in 1998 at the University of Iowa. What a weirdly small world: he now writes about the Malawian blogosphere at Global Voices (his personal blog is here).
In his email, Steve mentioned Aleksei Varlamov, a Russian writer who was at Iowa that same year and had an office somewhere downstairs at the International Center. I attended one of his readings once and really liked the story he was reading from, and we also smoked together outside a few times, under those beautiful oak trees that they have there.
I googled Aleksei up - and was happy to learn that he won an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Award a year ago. I read this interview (RUS) with him, and even though there are things I can't agree with him on, he seems like a wonderful person (and definitely doesn't deserve being cursed by some hateful morons in the comments).
At the time of the interview, he was working on an Aleksei Tolstoy's biography, and here's a passage I found quite interesting:
You're working on a book about the "Red Count" [the Comrade Count] Aleksei Tolstoy. How are you treating the negative aspects of his life story?
What exactly do you mean?
What do you mean, what exactly? Above all, his participation in the party life and literature. His feasts, during which he was totally getting out of control...
First of all, he wasn't a party member. He was not a member of VKP(b). Second, he was someone who knew how to achieve what he aspired to. A rare quality for a Russian. Aleksei Tolstoy was like a Russian American of sorts, someone like Scarlett O'Hara from "Gone With the Wind" - who promised: "My family will never go hungry." And Tolstoy, after starving through the revolution, had the same goal - his family and he himself should not be hungry. He emigrated, but when he realized that he'd do better in Russia, he returned to his motherland and continued to despise the Bolsheviks in his soul, though he was ready to become one himself if that meant he'd live a prosperous life. One can blame him for that. But this was his life position. As for the feasts during which he was getting out of control... In Valentin Berestov's memoirs, there's a wonderful episode. He asked Tolstoy's fourth wife, Lyudmila Ilyinichna: Why Aleksei Nikolaevich, such a clever person, says silly things all the time? It turned out that she herself had once asked him a similar question. And Tolstoy replied: "If I were in a creative state even at the parties, I'd be blown away." You could judge him for this, too. But it's more interesting to try to understand.